25 August 2007

Design for the other 90% controversy

Be the first to share

Design for the other 90%
Design for the Other 90%, the much lauded exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York on how design can address the basic challenges of survival and progress faced by the world’s poor and marginalised, has been severely criticised by David Stairs in a hard-hitting article on the Design Observer:

Stairs identifies three crucial problems:

Remote experience is, consequently, one of the issues curators face in mounting such an exhibition, and it is a price we, in the West, pay for our mediated existence. Too often design solutions are remote solutions, even by those with years’ work in the developing world (myself very much included). The only reference I could find in the catalog to this problem was Martin Fisher’s observation that poor families like to prepare their main meal indoors in the evening, when solar cookers are considerably less effective — an issue contradicted in exhibiting a solar stove made from bicycle parts.

A second fallacy afflicting design thinking is what I call instrumentalization, or the notion that technology can, more often than not, provide the solution. Designers are especially susceptible to this delusion, perhaps because they are often trained to solve immediate rather than long-term problems. By way of example, inventions like the Hippo and Q water rollers work well at alleviating hard work over level ground, but are less effective than a jerrycan headload over meandering, hilly, narrow footpaths. Or, the exhibition’s catalog shows an Indian man in a workplace illuminated by a solar lighting system, but ironing clothes with a charcoal-heated iron. Similarly, the PermaNet — a specially-treated mosquito net — repels bugs for twice as much time as conventionally-treated nets. Regrettably, as it was displayed in the exhibition, it did not reach the ground; this is precisely the real-world oversight that heat-seeking vectors take advantage of in Africa.

Gargantuan thinking is a third error: the need to house the world’s population, eliminate disease, and reverse global warming. (Here I much prefer Wes Janz’s onesmallproject to Bruce Mau’s Massive Change.)”

Stairs concludes:

“Is there a realistic response designers from developed countries can offer? A starting point might be to recognize that in many cases, we don’t need to remake other people or their societies in our image and likeness. The idea of design intervention — sustainable or otherwise — may feel very intrusive to people who are still reeling from 150 years of colonial intervention. (You don’t just waltz into a patriarchal society and aggressively advocate equal opportunity for women, or deliver pumps and boreholes to peasant farmers without understanding the sociology of migratory herdsmen). Living among other people and learning to appreciate their values, perspectives and social mores is an excellent tool of design research. (To their credit, both Polak and Fisher have spent considerable time abroad, not just user-testing, but living and working with their client-partners.) Education is also a wonderful access point, as is a required second language. But how many design curricula are supporting, let alone implementing such global initiatives?”

The article got 58 comments so far and was featured on the Core77 webzine.

David Stairs coordinates the graphic design program at Central Michigan University. He is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project, and the executive director of Designers Without Borders.

Be the first to share
3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City
Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you …
1 October 2017
Financial Times special report on citizen empowerment through technology
The Financial Times has published People's Technology, an excellent special report on how grassroots communities across Europe are using technologies in new ways to solve problems and empower citizens. People and communities are putting new …
1 October 2017
Thinking about the social cost of technology
The frustration and stress caused by complex technologies that can seem unknowable — not to mention the time and mindshare that gets wasted trying to make systems work as people want them to work — …
25 August 2017
Design Thinking is bullshit
Here is Pentagram partner and designer Natasha Jen's definition of design thinking: Design thinking packages a designer's way of working for a non-designer audience by codifying their processes into a prescriptive, step-by-step approach to creative problem …
25 August 2017
Design Thinking needs to think bigger
We live in a massively complex, intricately interconnected global system. And it’s increasingly impossible to be designers (or human beings) without taking into account how we affect and are, in turn, affected by all the …
29 July 2017
Data ethnographer: the most crucial design job of the future
Data inside of algorithms is incredibly symbiotic with the algorithm itself. In product design, the data fed to algorithms determines the characteristics of a product. This implies radical transparency and giving consumers access to an …
11 April 2017
[Book] Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population: Towards Universal Design
Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population: Towards Universal Design By Jeff Johnson and Kate Finn Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, March 2017 258 pages > First chapter Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population: Towards Universal Design presents age-friendly design guidelines …
8 April 2017
Jeremy Myerson on how social challenges can catalyse design-led innovation in industry
In this recent talk at the RCA in London, writer and academic Jeremy Myerson explores how social challenges can catalyse design-led innovation in industry. Rather than seeing such issues as ageing populations, growing healthcare needs …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

17 October 2017
Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize is a win for good design

by Erin O’Loughlin Richard Thaler’s 2017 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday was met with more buzz around the offices of our design agency than is usual for economics news. What people outside of the industry probably don’t realize is that service designers don’t think of Richard Thaler as an economist — instead, we consider him one of […]

3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City

Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you to join us. The event is organised by the City of Turin and will take place in strategic city locations […]

1 October 2017
Half-day event on service design innovation in Turin

(This page will be regularly updated to reflect minor programme changes) To Innovate through Service Design – Conference for Torino Design of the City From 10 to 16 October, the City of Turin will host Torino Design of the City. This week of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design will take place in […]

4 August 2017
The human side of autonomous cars — with Nissan Research’s Melissa Cefkin

Reposted from Medium Beyond the engineering challenge of creating cars that drive themselves lies the social challenge. Before autonomous cars are ready to navigate our roads, they must be able to navigate the vastly more complicated nuances of human behaviors and interactions — from that friendly nod that says “You first” at a four-way stop, to the […]

31 May 2017
 Intervista a Todd Harple di Intel sul tech-fashion

Ripostato da Medium – English version Il mondo del fashion sta diventando sempre di più digitale — e non si tratta solo di dispositivi da indossare, ma anche e soprattutto di abbigliamento, realizzato con tessuti in cui sono effettivamente integrati dei sensori in grado di misurare e monitorare il corpo di chi li veste. Dato che la […]

8 May 2017
Why service design is the new black — Intel’s Todd Harple on fashion tech

Reposted from Medium – Versione italiana The world of fashion is becoming increasingly digital — and not just wearable devices, but with clothing made from fabrics that actually integrate sensors and technology that can monitor and measure the wearer. As fashion starts to go beyond outward appearance, fashion designers need to broaden their skillsets, to make sure […]

See all articles